50 jobs at dairy in balance as Fivemiletown Creamery enters sell-off talks
The future of one of Ireland's oldest creameries, Fivemiletown, is hanging in the balance.
Owners of the Co Tyrone cheese producer are in "delicate" talks over the future of the business – sparking fears for 50 jobs.
It is believed the owners are considering selling the company.
Fivemiletown Creamery is the only independent specialist cheesemaker in Northern Ireland.
A spokesman said: "There are delicate negotiations going on about the future of the business because of difficult trading conditions, losses over a period and issues around the milk pool." He said there were no redundancy issues "at the moment".
He added: "It should be resolved in a few weeks."
Two major firms, believed to be Glanbia and Lakeland Dairies, are involved in talks, local newspaper the Impartial Reporter said.
Lakeland Dairies Group is Ireland's second largest dairy processing co-operative. Glanbia plc is an international producer of cheese and other products.
It said two options are being considered: Lakeland could keep the plant as a going concern, or Glanbia could purchase the milk pool, which extends across Fermanagh and the Clogher Valley.
The second option would mean the loss of the 50 jobs.
Farmers who are suppliers and members of the Fivemiletown and Brookeborough Dairy Co-operative Society met in the Valley Hotel in Fivemiletown on Tuesday to hear about the plans. Employees were called to a meeting on Wednesday morning. A vote of around 75% will be necessary to secure either deal.
SDLP agriculture spokesman Joe Byrne said the news was a matter of huge concern, adding: "Fivemiletown Creamery is a vital business in Tyrone which employs 50 people. It has operated since 1898 and is part of the fabric of the area. The creamery is a consistent award winner for its products, particularly its cheese."
UUP MLA Tom Elliott said it would be a huge blow to both the staff and to the milk producers who supply the creamery if it were to close down. He said he hopes to meet with management soon.
Fivemiletown Creamery, which saw record sales in 2011, goes back to 1898 when Fellonburg Montgomery and Sir Arthur Douglas Brooke merged their two farming co-operatives, Fivemiletown and Brookeborough. The company started off as a collection point for milk, moving into butter manufacture in 1947. After the war it went into bottling milk. In 1996 this interest was sold to Bangor Dairies and cheesemaking began in the late 1960s on the site of an old Methodist church. Cheese is now the only product made on the site.